Quite frankly, the level of technological understanding by some members of our government is embarrassing. Anyone who watched Congress question Mark Zuckerberg is well aware of this, and it makes it unreasonable to expect proper regulation of major tech companies, or legislation that addresses the large technological issues that we’ll continue to face in areas such as AI and cybersecurity.
It’s also impossible to imagine that Congress can provide full oversight over the executive branch, whose Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) is staffed extensively, providing guidance and information on important technological developments to the President and other executive-branch staff.
The Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) provided valuable research to our legislative branch until it was phased out in 1995. Free of the bias of private industry or think tanks, the OTA provided neutral information on the latest technological developments to legislators. Many of these reports, despite being a quarter of a century old, show an amazing prescience on topics that are still relevant to this day. This vital institution needs to be revived, with a budget large enough and rules flexible enough to draw top talent away from the very lucrative private sector, and with the mandate to ensure that our legislators are up to the task of regulating the biggest technological issues of our time.
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Problems to be Solved
- Congress lacks a dedicated research arm to provide them with vital information on new technologies and large companies such as Facebook, Google, and Amazon.
- The executive branch has access to the Office of Science and Technology Policy, creating an asymmetry in expertise that makes effective oversight by Congress essentially impossible.
- Private sector jobs in this area are extremely lucrative, making it difficult to attract talent into the public sector.
Cutting the OTA over two decades ago to ‘save money’ was the dumbest decision ever, and it likely cost the American people hundreds of times the budget of the OTA based on less efficient and informed legislation. Having a group of technology experts on hand for Congress to consult with, free of industry influence, is common sense and overdue. Let’s try to get in front of the true challenges of the 21st century and get Congress the information they need to make intelligent decisions.
- Revive the Office of Technology Assessment
- Provide means for the OTA to attract the relevant talent to ensure quality advice
As President, I will...
- Refuse to sign any budget that doesn’t include the revival of the Office of Technology Assessment and enough funding to ensure it is staffed at sufficient levels to deliver top quality briefings to members of Congress.
- Find ways for the OTA and OSTP to work together to ensure both branches of government have the best information available and Congress can provide proper oversight of the actions of the executive branch.
- Increase the staffing of the OSTP to appropriate levels, similar to those under President Obama (~150).
- Support any changes Congress makes to its compensation structure to ensure that top talent can be attracted to work in the public sector for at least a period of time, including increasing the pay cap above congressional salaries or creating tax breaks for companies that allow employees to defer their employment to work in government for several years.